It is godlike to love the being of someone.
Your existence is a delight to us.
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
I have a son. He is just a slip of a boy who I hope will grow up to be skinny, like his dad.
I’ve always loved skinny boys. To me it marks them as having sustained a different kind of teasing, and a different kind of survival.
My whole family comes from skinny boy stock, all elbows and knees and wire. Boy oh boy how those boys could scrap and sprint. My freshman year of track I ran with those boys (this is not a metaphor) in the mile and two-miles races. Girls and boys, thin as rabbits, leaping for the finish line. I learned respect and interest in those boys who could run faster than me. Perhaps it’s the blending of opposites, the slender strength of power and fragility within one body. It brings me to attention, appreciation, deep inquisitiveness.
Who doesn’t want to know about the tenderness held in the body of man who is told from his youth that he is supposed to be rough and tough?
In a world where strength is practically a synonym for masculinity, I want to notice the skinny ones. I want to ask these fellows how they came to peace with their bodies. They know that body image isn’t only a female topic.
The boy, Andy Catlett, explains,
They greeted me (the men strong and tough with labor), made much of me, gave me very astutely my credit rating, and so reminded me how much, how much more than they knew, I wished to grow and fill out and do work worthy of my dinner (Andy Catlett: Early Travels, 2006).
Despite my son’s rather girth-y beginnings at almost 10 pounds, he is stretching into one of those skinny boys. In one week, this little boy will turn four. In this next year, I see the same challenge, to raise a boy into a man who will be known for his tender love rather than his rulership and muscles.
Two years ago, I almost lost my son. After a routine surgery gone sour, I flew with him as they airlifted his unconscious body to Denver. When my son was knocked out by the world’s blows, his future girth or skinniness seemed impossibly irrelevant. I simply wanted him to live, to be healthy again.
And skinny boys are healthy sons of the most high.
To simply know the soul of another, to have the courage to look at them, to see them, to love them, this is the fuel (it’s like the veggies and protein) for our lives. I’ve recently realized I give undeserved reverence to tall men, to stacked men, to powerful men over the short men, the skinny men, the disempowered men. I may love skinny boys, but I think the powerful big men deserve to drive the ship.
And so I write an ode to skinny boys. Not because they are more valuable than big men, but because often they know more about soul matters because they’ve been forced to look within (it is the same with women who don’t fit single digit jeans).
Show me a man of tenderness and love, big or small, skinny or stacked. A man who can hold his tongue and push into the fragility of relationship with courage and vulnerability. Show me a man who can wash feet, not just his son’s or his sexy wife’s but the feet of those who bother him. These are the men I want to re-calibrate to revere.
Recently, my husband came upon an old list I had texted him from the emergency airlift. Simple things that I needed to care for my son in the hospital in Denver.
- Power cord for computer
- Pink ditty bag
- Breast pump: bottom shelf. Purple base. Plug. Hoses with caps. Bottles with parts and containers.
- Two pair underwear
- One pajama pant
- One bra
- Pair of socks
- Bag of trail mix
- Black bag
- One or two long sleeve shirts
- Deodorant. In square basket above closet
- Eye drops
- Eye mask
The stuff of humans is laundry list stuff. It’s mundane and repetitive (I just made lunch, do we really have to eat AGAIN?!). It’s vulnerable and drippy and so high maintenance.
What I see God teaching me is that the mundane human stuff is why we get to live. Eye drops and underwear are part of the ways we take care of ourselves for each other. We bring our husband the power cord. He brings us the eye mask. And any man (the skinny and the buff) and any women (the soft, the hard, the svelte and the stout) can learn to be tender. Any man and any woman can learn to serve well, to gather item in those harrowing moments when children lie unconscious. If you don’t believe me, this weekend check out two videos that have deeply influenced my gender theory. Pioneers like Jean Kilbourne and Jackson Katz explain in these videos how femininity and masculinity have been sold to us (yes, even in Christendom), a false list of things that actually make us less human: Killing Me Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women and Tough Guise (your Interlibrary Loan program should have access to these).
Perhaps this is a post, not simply about my son, but about the capacity every human has to delight in the being of another. And once the false views of masculinity or femininity fall away, I believe delight is what we all, deep down, really want.
Next month, I’ll be sharing a series of hard, tender conversations to build gentleness in those who watch. Recorded for Emerald City, we’ll start with a conversation with Donna Johnson, and her book, Holy Ghost Girl, which covers the tenderness she’s cultivated toward the cult leader who marred her childhood.